To Malaysian voters: No man is an island, but every man owns his island

JULY 30 — It’s the most natural thing to want. To wish our lives are not beyond ourselves. The living of it, the everyday happenings, to want all of it to be confined to our person. A happiness within our space.

To be left alone, for the lack of a better term.

Yet inherently, no one wants to be shipwrecked on a deserted island, to be alone. However abundant the island is with food, water and a home entertainment unit replete with a premium Netflix subscription. The movement control order (MCO) reminded us that it’s almost unbearable when our world shrinks, regardless how the sacrifice saves human lives.

Living is to be with people. And that is the easiest way to explain why politics is irremovable from societies.

I do risk scorn by wading into a politics matters discussion at a time when voter cynicism is at a volatile crescendo. At a time, a crowdfund “dollar target” to chuck our representatives — one by one — from both sides into a shark pool would be matched and exceeded in hours. The people will throw in more if it’s an FB Live event.  

But perhaps there’s no better time to espouse its importance.

So for now hold off those spears and show the mercy necessary even if this plea is a “dead man walking.”

Read. Then mock.

What it is

Politics, the process to determine who governs us, how they govern us and when they solicit our thoughts, feelings and expectations, all in order to chart national progress.

Politics, the passage to shape individual obligations and rights, what we can do personally and what we can do together in any group we choose to associate with. To lobby for changes to meet our personal and group’s interest while we remain on board the ship in its voyage.

Lofty ambitions? Indeed.

Still, it almost always disappoints.

But, even if it does, relentlessly, our resolve to participate must stay.

Because it all encapsulates.

We can live in our homes covered by insurance and manned by 24-hour-surveillance, or be employed as the security or insurance broker caring for the venture capitalist in his abode, and assume all is well. But if the government wages war, then all of us have to pick up a rifle, whether we like to or not.

At that moment, the size of our gardens won’t decide how much bullets hurt us. That’s why we participate. To decide if we are liable to be collateral damage because we left all the decision making to others.

Or if we choose to live in a commune or a sub society because the larger population does not accept particular lifestyle choices.

Stay away from the system, the advice. Confident the different values only upset people but don’t harm them physically, therefore out of sight, out of mind, at least to the detractors.

However, unless the laws of the country are changed, through politics, then the private space to be different is always at danger of an encroachment, and when that happens, physical distance is refused as an excuse to be. They can come for you unless you get up and speak.

Participation regardless of outcomes is fait accompli. The options are to ignore your self-interest and wait for your life to be compromised, or to act within the body politic.

A monstrous lie has been perpetrated decades ago in Malaysia, and maybe a toxic residue of colonial rule, that the country’s inhabitants are better off not paying attention to how politics is being played out. “It’s filthy, stay out to keep your sanity.”

And as it is usual for lies to be repeated profusely using all the state’s channels and authority, the masses believe it and then in time defend it as a core value they’ve inherited.

The haze of confusion

The vote is the prerequisite for full participation.

However, democracy's opponents line up reasons to downplay the vote.

To begin, they rebut with numbers.

Voters are in the millions, how can any one vote matter? The single voter is insignificant, they claim. The vote dilution argument always pesters and avoids the notion or truth that the vote is not only about determining who wins elections. It is to uphold the principle every voter owns the country.

In the fervent belief that if people know it, they’d act differently.

I’ve seen residents in my taman up in arms about anything remotely linked to their units. Whether it is about faulty electric meters or how the nearby land development silts up the monsoon drains and brings floods, the residents listen attentively.

It is their home, it is the only thing they have. Or the only thing they are certain they possess. Their commitment to that home is absolute.

Outside, beyond their premise, is beyond them in their minds.

This is what the monstrous lie produced.

The eviction of people’s right over their country as their personal property commonly shared.

The vote is to reinforce the rakyat’s conviction that they own their country. It is a profound statement about life as much as it is about property.

After the numbers’ ruse falls flat, they expound democracy’s complexities.

Separation of powers, tabulations of budgets, alignments of state and capital’s interest in a federation and foreign policy, for example, of reasons why common people should not try to make sense of power. They say.

They are wrong.

Friends were miffed — in a WhatsApp group— on why a former PM convicted of criminal breach of trust, can remain free while appeals are planned to drag things till a political victory emerges. But due process is a necessary part of a just system. Recourses must remain even if they are mainly available only to those with means.

The difficulty to comprehend is not an argument to negate participation but rather a call to explain government better. Better communicators can be called upon to “byte and bit” size government’s role and work. Technology improves by the day to inform people, to assist. This is a clarion call for more not less communication between power and people.

And finally, the Hail Mary pass, when all else fails, they claim participation is meaningless because politicians betray voters. This year continues to offer spectacular proof of theory.

The fall of the federal government kicked off a series of events which have turned political realities upside down overnight. State governments fell in succession, creating a new normal where so much power shifts occurred without any voter asked to cast a ballot anywhere.

If the vote seems petty in light of this, I can’t disagree.

Even if not in this year of nonsense, politicians are always inclined to act away from their voters’ interest because they are incontrovertibly humans too. They have ambitions, time to negotiate and families.

People speak about anti-hopping laws, legal liabilities for crossing over and investigations to look for financial inducements, but the only real protection people have in the face of two-faced politicians is their participation.

A failed process is not reason to withdraw involvement, it’s a harsh reminder more is needed. More participation, not less.

It’s a fool who checks his store once every five years, and expects the appointed manager to have kept everything ticking when that said manager is fully aware stakeholders stay away for the duration.

So, here’s the cliffnotes.

People are born into a country — barring the choice to emigrate or die on a hill — and inherit a situation. Without exception that situation involves a political role. They have to choose. Fulfil obligation or wilfully be derelict. I only pray you choose the former.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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